- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
A Venery of Nouns
There are a lot of things I wish I had invented. Name the product, idea, or concept, and someone has already come up with it, much to my frustration. Heck, I’m smart. It’s just that I’m smart…a day late.
For instance, one area that bothers me because I wasn’t the first is that of terms of venery. Sometimes called “nouns of assembly” or “collective nouns,” they are the interesting, unique names for groups of animals: a herd of cows, a school of fish, a swarm of bees.
Those are all pretty common. Some others not quite as renowned are (I promise I’m not making these up; Google “collective nouns” or “nouns of venery” and you’ll see): a bask of crocodiles, a rhumba of rattlesnakes, a knob of toads, a parliament of owls, and my all-time favorite, an exaltation of larks.
You wonder how they came up with those names. (I’m sure I could take the time to research this, but, well, I have a life.) To wit: an exaltation of larks. What is a lark, that it should be exalted? I’m thinking the church got involved with this one…perhaps a flock of larks stopped to rest in Lourdes, France, RIGHT at the time a priest finished bathing, and he took their arrival as a sign. Of what, I have no idea, but soon word of the “Miracle of the Larks” reached the Vatican. In no time, the church proclaimed “henceforth, the lark shall be exalted. Yea, so exalted is the lark that if there be more than one, they shall be called ‘an exaltation of larks.’ Thus it has come to pass, we have killed two birds—not larks, of course—with one stone: we raised the lark to its rightful status, and we added yet another noun of venery to the culture.”
And why stop with animals? A few years back, “Click and Clack,” aka brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, on their fantastic NPR show “Car Talk,” held a contest to see who could come up with the best noun of assembly for groups of people. The only one I remember is the one that I think won the contest: a stroke of geniuses. Brilliant (even…genius)! As usual, I wish I had thought of it.
A few others, my own pitiful attempts:
- A vault of bankers
- A brief of attorneys (and a gavel of judges)
- A wrench of mechanics
- A block of writers
- A shrink of psychiatrists
- A splatter of painters
- A cathouse of congressmen (no offense intended… to cathouses)
And don’t stop with just people! Recently, some friends and I were discussing terms of venery (hmm, maybe I DON’T have a life after all), and decided to apply the concept to one of our favorite things…beer. What term would be the most appropriate to describe a bunch of beer, a pile of pilsners, an assembly of ales? (Did you catch the allure of alliteration there? Sorry; sometimes coming up with collective nouns can go too far.)
“Six-pack” and “case” were already taken, to say nothing of boring. Also, what if the number weren’t six or 24? Clearly, a better term was needed. A number of candidates were nominated, considered, and discarded. Some examples:
- A delight of beers
- A wonderment of beers
- A lagoon of beers
- An algorithm of beers (one of our group is a math professor; this one didn’t last long)
- A Yee-Haw of beers (another of our group is a redneck; this one didn’t make it far, either)
Finally—and again, I’m bitter because I didn’t think of it—someone came up with “a harem of beers.” Wow. Given beer’s stereotype as a subservient bidder of man’s—and apparently, ONLY man’s, if popular culture is to be believed—wishes, “harem” is the PERFECT noun of assembly for it. (The discerning reader will note that I subliminally had a noun of venery in that last sentence: “a bidder of wishes.” Told you this can go too far.)
Try coming up with your own collective nouns. Pick a common noun and think of a new, unique way to describe more than one. To help get you started, try to come up with clever names to call groups of: farms, sandwiches, clouds, golf balls, and unicorns (OK, that one isn’t so common, but give it a shot). Why, this could turn into the next great craze…which someone else has probably already thought of. As usual, I’m a day late. A lifetime of bitterness (see how easy it is?).
An enough of this.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Why do we care what happens in Ferguson, Missouri? Because on some level we recognize that if any one group or community can be officially deprived of their human and civil rights without restraint, then it can happen to any other group or neighborhood. Sea Island, Georgia is proof. Sea Island, Georgia has been turned into an exclusive neighborhood. Random visitors are turned away at a guarded gate and even residents driving off the island must pause and wait for the barricade to rise and let their vehicle pass unscratched. Presumably, pedestrians can leave unchallenged. Though, people on foot are universally Read on →
At this time in my life I am beginning to view so much of what is happening around me through an increasingly cynical prism. As a friend is quick to point out, though, that behind every committed cynic there is a disappointed idealist wondering what happened to a world that once seemed so good and full of possibilities. I blame Shakespeare for part of my mental dyspepsia. It all began back in university when a supercilious professor dressed down a fellow student for misspelling the bard’s name. Now after reading Bill Bryson’s book Shakespeare: The World As Stage, I find that the Read on →
She somewhat resembled the retired but not really old men who can’t wait to don their big blue hats and disappear into the basement for long periods to “work on” their elaborate model train sets. Like them, she could easily slip into a fantasy world where objects of interest were always smaller and at times had to be willed to be seen. She could spend hours gathering moss and twigs to build fairy houses and would then sit quietly nearby waiting for occupants. Little did she suspect that if you make them, they don’t necessarily come. And she was nearing forty. Read on →
Above my family homestead in the East Tennessee foothills is an old, abandoned cemetery. I admit I've never seen it, but I think about it often. I imagine the worn stone markers neck deep in leaves in the fall or peeking out of the winter snow like early hyacinths. In my imagination, I never bothered to name these people, much less engage in meaningful character development. I don’t know them in any sense of the word; I just know that they are up there, tucked deeply in an earthy hollow waiting for whatever comes next. I don’t expect anyone comes to vis Read on →